The Walking Dead Season 8 finale recap
When showrunner Scott M. Gimple promised that the season 8 finale of AMC‘s The Walking Dead would serve as a sort of “conclusion of the first eight seasons,” he wasn’t lying, as the episode “Wrath” not only concluded the “All Out War” story arc but perfectly set up a “bigger, new narrative” for next season. Check out The Walking Dead Season 8 finale recap and behind-the-scenes videos in the players below!
The finale is book-ended by a letter Rick narrates to his dead son, Carl. In the letter, Carl wrote to his father before he died, he told Rick how he remembered going on walks as a kid with him, and Rick says in “Wrath” that he remembers, too, allowing fans a glimpse of a pre-apocalyptic Rick and Carl walking hand-in-hand. The beginning of the episode serves as a calm before the storm, taking the audience from the group gathered at the Hilltop making final preparations before the battle with the Saviors, while Negan, Eugene, and the rest of the Sanctuary put their own plan into place.
Rick and Co., believing they have successfully taken out a group of Saviors (unaware Negan purposefully sacrificed his own people in order to trap Rick and the others), ultimately find themselves surrounded by Saviors on a hillside. In an episode encompassed by life-altering and game-changing decisions, Eugene himself — influenced by Rosita and Gabriel — saves the day when it’s revealed that he sabotaged the bullets he made for Negan to malfunction, causing the Saviors, including Negan, to take a bullet in the hand when they fired instead of slaughtering Rick and the rest of his allied forces.
Back at the Hilltop, Tara and the Saviors who turned their back on Negan receive help from Aaron and the women of Oceanside when the latter shows up to help defend the community from a group of Negan’s people. Once we see the Hilltop is safe, we make our way back to the battlefield as Rick and Negan face off once more.
In the final intense confrontation, Rick injures Negan by cutting his throat with a piece of broken stained glass, but not deep enough to kill him. Ever since reading Carl’s letter, Rick has had to struggle with a big decision, and in the finale he finally makes it: He allows Negan to live, as well as the group of Saviors who surrendered, in order to rebuild a civilization like what they had before. He tells the Saviors who have surrendered that they need to work together to take on the threat of the undead and that while Negan may be alive, “his way of doing things is over. And anyone that can’t live with that will pay the price.”
The end of the episode shows what working together in peace looks like: Rosita and Tara go to the Sanctuary to help put it back together, while Daryl decides to let Dwight live, telling him to leave and to never come back but giving him his life. The book in Maggie’s possession, “A Key to the Future,” is mentioned, with our main reformed Savior telling the Hilltop leader that he intends to use it to build what they need to continue to thrive. Morgan reaches out to Jadis, on behalf of Rick, giving her a message that she can come back to the community if she wants to in order to help Rick make a new future for everyone.
But not everyone agrees with Rick’s decision to spare Negan’s life. In a haunting scene (which you can watch below) we learn that while Maggie agrees with Rick’s choice to let the Saviors who surrendered live, her desire to kill Negan out of revenge for killing Glenn has ultimately set her on a path of working against Rick and Michonne, telling Jesus that they will make the Hilltop strong and defensible, that they will bide their time, “wait for our moment, and then we’re going to show ’em.” Daryl steps out of the shadows of the room only to agree, leaving fans unsettled at the possibility of Maggie becoming a villain next season.
The big change moving forward is that Rick no longer sees a future of “How do I survive today?” but how to build something new, an actual society or civilization as close as they can get to what they had before. This becomes even more clear when Rick and Michonne have a conversation with Negan who is handcuffed to a bed in Alexandria. They plan on having him rot in a cell for the rest of his life, where he can not only witness how they rebuild society, but where he will serve as a symbol of a better future, aka, one where it doesn’t have to just be about killing and hate, but a return to mercy, law and order, and a more maintainable civilization.
During the Talking Dead episode, Andrew Lincoln (who plays Rick Grimes) says that the decision to spare Negan only came as Negan told Rick that Carl “didn’t know a damn thing” and Rick realizes “what he’s about to become.” As Rick details in his letter to Carl, Carl’s own words reminded Rick of who he was, and while facing Negan he realized it was about “restraint rather than revenge and love rather than hate,” not only to not lose himself but to create a better future for all of them.
Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comics and executive producer of the show, said that Rick not killing Negan is “a huge turning point in a long series of turning points for Rick Grimes… Every major conflict in the history of The Walking Dead has ended with a huge death or someone dying and this is him choosing life.”
The decision to allow Negan to live was arguably a smart choice for the series for a number of reasons, but mainly because the death of Carl served as a massive alteration from the comic books and killing Negan instead of putting him in a cell would have been another huge shift away from the original source material. It serves as a new beginning for The Walking Dead and its characters. It’s no longer about just surviving, but about peace and rebuilding, and as we’ll see in the upcoming season, the show will continue to evolve as they face new obstacles, including problems with each other as Maggie, Daryl, and Jesus plot, as well as the possibility of new groups and dangers on top of the massive group of undead we saw in the finale.
What did you think, Walking Dead fans? Will Maggie continue on a dark path and become next season’s baddie? Will Daryl actually turn against his “brother” Rick? Can Alexandria and the other communities begin to rebuild an actual, structured society that doesn’t rely on killing and hate as so many of them have become accustomed to in this new world? Share your thoughts on the finale as well as your theories for what’s in store for Rick and the others next season in the comments below!